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Speech by HM The King at the 2021 Princess of Asturias Awards Ceremony

Your Majesty,

Vice-President of the Spanish Government, Speaker of the Spanish Parliament, President of the Regional Government of the Principality of Asturias, Ministers, Speaker of the Regional Parliament of the Principality of Asturias, Delegate of the Central Government in Asturias, Mayor of Oviedo, President of the Princess of Asturias Foundation, Authorities, Trustees and Members of the Juries, Dear Laureates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

When we presented our Awards last year, Spain was facing difficult circumstances; subjected, as I stated at the time, to tremendous extreme pressure and tension. The global pandemic forced us to change the way we behave and our attitudes, altering and also transforming our way of life, the way we work and even the way we interact with one another. A great, new uncertainty was added to and overlaid the already numerous uncertainties that we nowadays have to confront on a daily basis.

Yet at the same time, despite these circumstances, we witnessed examples of personal conduct replete with responsibility and solidarity. And we also witnessed joint commitments brimming with emotion and hope. Commitments that have brought us closer to so many people who have suffered the disease in such a sad and painful way and, above all, brought us closer to the victims, whose memory shall remain with us always.

As the health workers reminded us when they collected their Award last year, it was the dedication, union, collaboration and help of the many that gained in importance over those months. And they found in the gazes of the others –of everyone– the strength and courage to carry on.

Today, our gaze turns to the Canary Island of La Palma. I would like to send our very special thoughts —so necessary, but above all so very heartfelt and affectionate— to those who live there. They have now been enduring the tremendous volcanic eruption for a month, their lives having been so helplessly, dramatically and sadly turned upside-down. Many of them have lost everything: their homes, their land and crops, their animals, their memories. From here, we convey to them our solidarity –which is that of Spain as a whole– and a great deal of encouragement in facing up to this situation. They have asked us not to forget them and, together with all Spaniards, that will be the case; we shall not forget them.

I would now like to address the Laureates of the 41st edition of our Awards in order to express our gratitude and, above all, offer our congratulations.

This year’s Award for the Arts has been conferred on the Serbian artist Marina Abramović, an outstanding representative of performance art, of which she is a pioneer. She helped lead the way for other artists, popularizing and making this discipline better known to the public at large. Her career constitutes an essential part of the transformation and avant- garde of the 20th century and has made her an exceptional creator. Her work combines surprise and intensity, emotion and spontaneity, reflection and doubt, beauty and pain... in short, art and life. Viewers of her performances find themselves deeply drawn into the expressive forms and thinking of this unconventional artist, who is so radically committed to art and its transcendence. Ever experimental, ever innovative.

Having become a symbol of how artistic creation and its fruits are continually being revitalized, Abramović’s performances already form part of the history of contemporary art. They are also a reflection of her integrity, as she has always been true to herself, representing the significance of a profound, authentic vocation.

Gloria Steinem has been granted the Award for Communication and Humanities. For decades, she has been one of the most active representatives of the fight for women’s rights, with equality, justice and freedom as the very standards of her commitment. She forged a path and was subsequently followed by millions of women. She continues to be very active and inspiring, a veritable flag bearer in the social transformation that ─when it comes to women─ has taken place in recent decades in the Western world, thanks, above all, to the tenacity and perseverance of so many women who have made compelling efforts to advance their collective rights.

Despite the work of people like Gloria Steinem, who have no doubts regarding the equal rights of all human beings, we continue to endure situations and conflicts that, day after day, jeopardize all that has been achieved and question the legitimacy of principles that are inalienable. Violence, discrimination, the lack of opportunities and, in short, regression towards situations that seemed to have been resolved, are clear evidence of all this. And that is why the commitment of women like our Laureate continues to be crucial for the construction of a world that is more just and in harmony.

Likewise, it is crucial for us to listen to the voice of organizations such as CAMFED - the Campaign for Female Education, which has received the Award for International Cooperation.

The organization’s origins and raison d’être are to be found in the demand for equity in education and its underlying principles. The African girls and women that this organization supports live in such unjust circumstancessimply because of their gender. They are denied the right to knowledge, to learning, and are consequently denied the possibility of a future, of a decent life. And as a result, their fundamental rights are irrationally violated. The courageous work of CAMFED is, in this sense, crucial for millions of girls and women –as well as for many boys– in these countries who are condemned to an existence marked by inequality, marginalization and poverty.

In this way, CAMFED further manages to create a network of intergenerational solidarity, as it is those women who have received help who in turn mentor the girls, providing continuous support from childhood through to adult life. CAMFED fights to remedy injustice, making equity, education, and sustainability a reality, ultimately leading to the possibility of a future without discrimination or contempt.

The economist and philosopher Amartya Sen, who has received the Award for Social Sciences, is more than familiar with what inequalities between human beings entail. He has reflected for decades on the roots of poverty and the imbalances that make it so difficult to achieve general well-being, the equitable distribution of property, solidarity and concord. His research into the standard of living, famine, social injustice and the lack of development has led to important analyses by means of which he has undoubtedly contributed to the fostering of justice and freedom. Amartya Sen’s thinking and theories have thus influenced public policies against extreme inequality drawn up by various international organizations. From here we greet and recognize him with admiration, and are sorry that he could not enjoy this day with all of us.

The Award for Sports has been conferred on our swimmer Teresa Perales. Today we also congratulate her for her latest medal, which she won in Tokyo last August. Her 27th to date! We also congratulate all our Olympians and Paralympians from the last Games. Thank you for representing us so commendably.

Teresa Perales is truly extraordinary. She is hard-working, courageous and admirable. Her tenacity and continuous striving for victory are a paradigm of what it really means to dedicate your life to competitive sports. A spirit that is vehement yet supportive, ambitious yet generous; a spirit that sport symbolizes when practised with dedication, intensity and excellence.

She is also a source of pride for Spain and a true example of self-improvement: triumphing over all her difficulties, injuries and illness, always with self-confidence and tremendous willpower. She is also an example for millions of people and families who see that it is truly possible for people with disabilities to be included both socially and in the workplace. This inclusion is much more than a mere concept and legitimate aspiration: thanks to the attitude and effort of people like her, it becomes a hopeful reality. Teresa Perales is one of Spain’s most outstanding sports personalities and, by her leave, today we would like to consider this an achievement of our own to a certain extent. Thank you, Teresa, for your dedication and enthusiasm.

Emmanuel Carrère, our Laureate for Literature, asserts that “writing is like groping forward”. The truth is that he writes to delve deep into what he and others have experienced, to describe –portray, he would say– characters that are always intense, tormented lives, until he manages to shine some light on facts and circumstances that give shape to a dense oeuvre which reflects on a disquieting world. A world that Carrère dissects, a world that produces all kinds of emotions in each and every reader.

The author of what he likes to call ‘documentary novels’, Carrère is also a film and television producer, director and screenwriter. Engaged in and committed to the act of describing the human condition, of accompanying the characters he portrays through their complex existence in order to thus offer them the possibility of expressing themselves and making themselves known, it is impossible to remain indifferent to the variety of feelings that his work offers us. At times with humour, at others with irony, his always suggestive and effective style of prose seems to follow the sound advice that you have to write about what you want to write about, because that is how you write about the truth, with the truth. Carrère is undoubtedly a master of the written word.

Last year, science gave us one of the greatest joys with the creation of vaccines against COVID-19. A historic event that today we recognize with the Award for Technical and Scientific Research to the 7 scientists who have led the research and development of these vaccines: Katalin Karikó, Drew Weissman, Philip Felgner, Uğur Şahin, Özlem Türeci, Derrick Rossi and Sarah Gilbert.

In an incredibly short period of time, these scientists have all pooled their knowledge and the end result of their years of intense work at the service of Humankind. Following different strategies, but with a common goal, they have obtained vaccines that constitute the best hope to defeat the virus. We are now more aware than ever of their efforts, their tenacity and their great ability to lead their different teams. Our admiration and gratitude is immense.

We are also now more aware than ever, after the last few months, of the essential backing that basic science, scientific research, needs. Today, on presenting the Award to these distinguished researchers, we wish to insist on this, because, as I affirmed last year when presenting the award to Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance, “it is our moral duty to demand and support the maximum scientific rigor and transparency in order to bolster the broadest possible confidence in this field that is so decisive for the health and balanced and fair development of humanity.”

And we are also more aware of the unjust circumstances of so many people in the world who do not have access to all these benefits. Vaccination against Covid-19 must reach the last corner of the planet. We have learned the hard way that the fight against threats such as that posed by this virus must serve for us to staunchly work together to achieve worldwide vaccination.

Our Laureate for Concord, José Andrés –together with his NGO World Central Kitchen– is more than familiar with the humanitarian emergency situations that human beings can suffer and to which he tries to give a rapid and effective response. A response, moreover, that is altruistic and generous, for which he is recognized throughout the world, as well, of course, in our country, and also most especially in his hometown, Mieres, only too familiar with the significance of fraternity and companionship.

The greatness of spirit of people who, like José Andrés, live their lives concerned about the welfare of others, regardless of the difficulties they may encounter on the way or the obstacles they have to overcome to bring relief, consolation and help wherever they are needed, is truly admirable. For this reason, here today we wish to highlight and recognize all the merits of a deeply committed and tremendously supportive person, brimming with immense kindness and the capacity to do good.

The work of José Andrés and World Central Kitchen is titanic. The ongoing, swift and efficient response to the most extreme situations has made them symbols of what it really means to show solidarity towards those who suffer, to help those in need, to collaborate with those who can provide solutions to the greatest misfortunes. There where a longer table is needed –something he never ceases to speak of– we find José Andrés and World Central Kitchen, something that is both truly moving and exemplary.

Dear Laureates, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Last year, we expressed our regret that this theatre was closed. But I affirmed then that we would return to “where on so many occasions ─since 1981─ we have felt deep emotion; where we have learned so much from words, feelings and works brimming with humanity, excellence and exemplarity.”

Fortunately, today we have returned to the Campoamor Theatre; to our customary venue; to memories that span 40 years; to our finest heritage and history. We are thrilled to recover this solemn, grand, yet also welcoming and inspiring setting. We are still aware that complying with existing public health guidelines does not exclude people or places. But returning here truly means a lot: it means getting back on track.

We have lived through circumstances that, until recently, were unknown to us all. The changes that are affecting the world are –dare I say— occurring much faster than our ability as human beings to accept, understand and assimilate them. They are changes that transform societies, give rise to imbalances and generate tensions. The momentum of today’s world leads us to a scenario in which ever more spheres of our lives are becoming globalized, in which we now share common risks and challenges with other human beings; a scenario in which we also become increasingly interdependent. A scenario, in short, in which no-one can set themself apart or tread a solitary path.

Faced with all these changes, we cannot waver. Giving up is not an option, as health workers told us in the worst moments of the pandemic. Faltering or conforming is not an alternative. We have to forge ahead.

The pandemic has taught us valuable lessons. It made us feel vulnerable and aware of how difficult it is to achieve well-being and yet how easy it can be to lose it. It served to reaffirm the advantages of working together. It served for us to understand that, only by working together, for the common good, is it possible to face the most difficult situations and emerge victorious from them.

At the same time, Spain was awash with both big and small feats on the part of thousands of its citizens. They demonstrated that gratitude, a commitment to others, a sense of public spirit, service to the community and loyalty to our country constitute the basic pillars of a society capable of overcoming obstacles; of a society in which, if we are impervious to the suffering of others, we shall endure our pain alone.

This crisis has made us recognize Spain as a society that is strong, responsible, mature and supportive; a society with a great capacity for improvement. And this is something we should be proud of; but it is not enough. In these decisive moments in terms of our future, we need serenity and composure to forge firmly ahead. On this path that we symbolically tread once again here today at the Campoamor Theatre, we cannot forget our roots, our benchmarks, the road we have already travelled as a society, and the foundations of our coexistence in peace and freedom.

Since the inception of our Foundation, we have conveyed a message of hope, year after year, at this our Awards Ceremony. And today in Oviedo, we come together once again to reaffirm that message, which is also a message of will and determination.

Indeed, it is hope that moves us. For in these hours of serenity that our Awards represent, we wish to recognize and extol everything that aids, consoles, comforts and gives us strength to forge ahead.

Our Laureates have always stood as an example of steadfastness and determination. An example of how their causes show the greatest commitment that human beings can make: commitment towards others.

We have heard and learned from them how public-spirited convictions and ethical principles strengthen, unite and define the societies that assume them as their own; how the values inherent to every human being –life, dignity, equality and freedom– must constitute a heritage of universal scope.

They have warned us of the frailty of democratic values, which are not to be taken for granted, the vigour and validity of which must be firmly, permanently, constantly and consciously defended. They have warned us that a strong, secure and better future depends on responsibility, on the fulfilment of the duty that corresponds to each and every one of us, on solidarity and on our unity.

So we must confidently forge ahead along the unwavering path of values and principles that make a society great and that —year after year— our Laureates share with and convey to us. I firmly believe that if we do so, we will be successful. No matter how difficult the challenges we may encounter along the way, we shall overcome them.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

During the past few months, the Queen and I, along with our daughters, have known and shared sorrow and concern with all Spaniards. But we have also shared and felt the hope and the will to live of thousands of people who continue to give us the strength to be able to express our feelings once again, without fear; to return to that time when we could embrace each other, shake hands, approach one another, and talk to and accompany our friends.

That gaze, in which health workers tried to find the strength and courage to carry on, that ever so encouraging gaze, within which dwelled courage, affection and gratitude, must remain with us.

Thank you very much.

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